Monday, December 26, 2011

NOVEMBER 22, 1963

I was nine years old when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The principal of my school walked into my fourth grade classroom and made the announcement. Although I was young, I was devastated by the news.
Kennedy's death has haunted me all of my life. Before that time television was a great source of entertainment and fun for me, but the news reports throughout the evening and the following days presented me with a new reality. Everyone seemed to be in mourning, suddenly TV became a source of gloom. You see, I've never watched a reality TV program; no American Idol or Dancing with the stars or any of that nonsense.

On the Sunday following JFK's assassination, my brother George woke me up to watch Lee Harvey Oswald being transferred to a Dallas jailhouse. I watched in horror as Jack Ruby shot and killed Oswald live on television. I believe it was the first murder to be captured on live TV it was also my first and last experience of "reality television." Currently I'm reading a book entitled: BROTHERS: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot. I've waited 48 years for this book as I have sought to understand the events that led to the assassination of Kennedy. The book is meticulously researched and well written. There are comments from political figures, reporters, Cuban exiles and others who have broken their silence and who speak freely about the events surrounding the death of JFK and later the death of his brother Bobby. Talbot's book is a searing document about American politics, each turn of the page is a revelation. BROTHERS tells an amazing story of the confluence of organized criminals, Cuban exiles, CIA operatives and disgruntled Joint Chiefs of Staff from the perspective of Bobby Kennedy who had a unique perspective of the dark forces surrounding the Kennedy administration.

When I learned of Kennedy's death I became very fearful, I thought: if the President of the United States can be murdered, how safe were my parents and my aunts and uncles? Yes, as a nine year old  I knew about Lincoln's assassination but that was a long time ago, that was history. But Kennedy's assassination was here and now. Some years before Kennedy was murdered I was riding in the back of my uncle's car and we passed JFK's motorcade on the highway or rather they passed us. I don't think he was President yet, but was on the campaign trail.

In 1991 when Oliver Stone released his film JFK he was castigated in the press for distorting the facts. On reading BROTHERS: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years it turns out that Oliver Stone was more accurate in the depiction of the events that took place, BROTHERS confirms this. However, the book goes much further than Stone ever could in a three hour film. Nor can the evening news or the daily newspaper, that so many of us rely on for our information, reveal the entire story. One must dig deeper to get at some semblance of the truth.

I believe that John Kennedy was truly the last American President whose policies and decisions were not made by a committee of advisors. He had some unique ideas about the future of America and, together with his brother Bobby, tied to implement them. But the sins of the father is often visited upon their sons.

If you have an interest in this period of American history, you have an obligation to read this book.

"What is past is prologue." Shakespeare, The Tempest

Clifford Jacobs
Have Pen, Will Write
Scribo Ergo Sum

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


On my second visit to Woodlawn Cemetery I was in search of Herman, no not the Republican hopeful but the author of Moby Dick. Finding Mr. Melville was as difficult as finding that leviathan that haunted Captain Ahab. I was expecting a burial site that was befitting Melville's stature as an author. Along the way I met a family from England and I asked had they seen Mr. Melville, they told me that they too were looking for him. Finally the daughter of the couple from England shouted, "here he is." Though his grave was difficult to find, the many pebbles and small stones atop his headstone was an indication that many had passed this way. Small stones, instead of flowers, are often left on headstones to indicate that the deceased is still remembered. 

While searching for Mr. Melville I saw a large memorial in the distance that drew my attention. This type of memorial is known as an exedra, a monument carved in the shape of a rectangular or circular bench. The two photos below are of the memorial of newspaper publisher, Joseph Pulitzer whose name was given to that much coveted prize for journalism. A majestic tribute: a solitary figure sits in quiet contemplation.

I was eager to read a history of Woodlawn Cemetery but found there's little that's available in print. I contacted a publishing company that specializes in books on local history and I've pitched the idea of writing a book about Woodlawn Cemetery. I'll start writing over the course of winter and will wait until spring to do more extensive photography. 

I was also delighted that there are numerous organizations for people who share an interest in this unique aspect of art, history and architecture. I also went to the theatre to see a new documentary entitled: In Heaven Underground: The Jewish Cemetery in Berlin-Weissensee which is the oldest Jewish cemetery in Germany, a fascinating film.

Clifford Jacobs
Have Pen, Will Write

Scribo Ergo Sum

Monday, November 21, 2011


Funerary design is often overlooked as a form of architecture just as obituaries are an overlooked form of literary writing (See my blog entitled Memento Mori.) Rarely does the design of a mausoleum draw our attention unless it was designed by a famous artist like Michelangelo who designed the tombs of Giuliano de Medici and Pope Julius II (with its magnificent central figure of Moses.)

 Tomb of Pope Julius II

Tomb of Giuliano De Medici

 Today I visited Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx primarily because I wanted to see where Miles Davis was buried and pay my respects to my favorite musician. My visit far exceeded my expectations.

Woodlawn Cemetery is 148 years old and has been declared a National Treasure largely due to the number of historic and notable figures who are buried there. (more on that later).
Woodlawn is considered a garden or rural type of cemetery that came into existence during the early 19th Century.

The mausoleum of Victor Herbert was of particular interest to me. As a young man I remember someone in my family having first edition envelopes issued by the U.S. Postal service commemorating Victor Herbert. My mother's maiden name is Herbert, and I used to wonder if there was a family connection. Probably not but he remains, in the back of my mind, as a constant thought.

Walking along the avenues of the cemetery is peaceful, it's like walking through a city in miniature filled with wonderful architecture. The mausoleums are what attracts one's attention initially. Most of the mausoleums appear to be Romanesque; there's nothing here that would appear to be Gothic in form. Probably because Gothic architecture is difficult to execute in miniature; it demands the majesty and grandeur of a large scale execution.

The word mausoleum comes to us from King Mausolus of Halicarnassus whose burial chamber was one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. There is much here that would catch the eye of a Freemason: twin pillars,broken columns, sphinxes and weeping virgins abound. There are also cenotaphs, monuments to the dead who have been interred elsewhere.

I traveled to Woodlawn to pay homage to my favorite musician: Miles Davis, but I was surprised at how many more musicians were buried here: Celia Cruz, Max Roach, Jackie McLean  and Lionel Hampton.
I didn't get to see the tombs of Herman Melville, Ralph Bunche or Felix Pappalardi of the rock band Mountain, so I'll have to plan a return visit.

When I was a student at Brown I use to ride my bike through one of the cemeteries located in Providence. I would pull over sit on the grass and read for an hour or two. The cemetery dated back to colonial times and often I would see Anthropology students doing rubbings of the head stones. For some reason I have found myself in cemeteries in most of the cities that I have visited: New Orleans, Rome, Paris and London to name but a few. Cemeteries are the only place that I know of where time truly stands still.

Suddenly I am reminded of the first sentence to Dan Brown's novel, The Lost Symbol which begins: "The secret is how to die." How can you truly live if you have not conquered the fear of death.
 So Mote it Be!

Clifford Jacobs
Have Pen, Will Write

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Something About Alice: For My Niece Saran

As a child growing up in the sixties I heard a lot of the new jazz music that was emerging at that time. My parents were born near the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in 1921. The Savoy was the Mecca for lindy hoppers. Early on I was weaned on the music of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford and Dinah Washington. In the mid sixties my brother George, who's seven years older than me, started to bring home jazz albums of a different sort. The music was becoming more experimental allowing the musicians room to solo extensively; searching, reaching and improvising their way into nether regions of spontaneous improvisation.

Perhaps no two artists pushed the envelope to the extreme than did John Coltrane and Miles Davis. My brother was a big fan of Coltrane's and I too found Coltrane's music to be both challenging and satisfying. (Miles, on the other hand, is my own personal deity and I pray at his altar every day!) As I was coming of age I discovered, for myself, the music of Alice Coltrane, wife of John.

What John Coltrane was searching for, Alice found. The first tune I heard Alice play was Gospel Trane from the album, A Monastic Trio. Later I purchased a copy of Ptah, The El Daoud which featured Joe Henderson and Pharoah Sanders on saxophones and the great Ben Riley on drums, Ron Carter bass and Alice on harp and piano. The album is a classic and it swings. She later released such titles as Journey to Satchindananda, Universal Consciousness and Transcendence.

She also collaborated with Carlos Santana on the 1974 album Illuminations which is a marvelous meeting of enlightened spirits where rock & jazz join in a meditative embrace. Alice also plays on Santana's "white album" Welcome that features Leon Thomas and Flora Purim as guest vocalists. Alice and Carlos set the album off by playing Anton Dvorak's "Going Home" (Anton hung in the hood before he wrote his Symphony No.9 "From the New World") At that time Carlos was a devotee of Sri Chinmoy and Alice became a devotee of Sai Baba so it's no surprise that they would play & record together.

This morning as I'm traveling to work I listened to Spiritual Eternal from the album Eternity. Alice plays the blues on what sounds like a Farfisa Organ and the string orchestra plays the blues. (I can't recall hearing a full orchestra play the blues unless, once again, you include Dvorak's Symphony No.9)

Mrs. Coltrane loved Igor Stravinsky and she arranged and recorded segments from Le Sacre du Printemps and L'oiseau de Feu.

Alice Coltrane was a truly beautiful spirit and musician.

For my niece Saran who desires to play the harp.

Cliff Jacobs
Have Pen, Will Write

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Paean to Spring (& Charlie "Bird" Parker)

Come, fill the Cup, and in the Fire of Spring
The Winter Garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To fly -- and Lo! the Bird is on the Wing.



Tuesday, February 22, 2011


MERDE! This is not good. Sipping Absinthe, reading Sartre and Camus while Satie plays in the background. Merde! Are there no sugar cubes in Jackson Heights? This is not good, don't they know that I must pay homage to La Fee Verte. Alas! Even the Thugge had their sugar cubes consecrated to Kali but they knew nothing of the Green Fairy.
Finally! Scored some cubes of sugar, this is good. Absinthe glass - check! Perforated spoon - check! Sugar cube - check! Pour Absinthe over sugar cube into glass, ignite sugar cube - flambé. Douse sugar with very cold water, the louche effect. The snake bites its tail - Alchemy! Sip. This is good, this is very good.

 When Margie  and I took one of our first vacations together in 1988 we found ourselves in New Orleans where we searched for an Absinthe bar. We sampled their offering but it was disappointing merely green colored anisette. We first learned about Absinthe while watching Madame X with Lana Turner, the story of a homeless woman who drowns her despair in Absinthe.

Twelve years later Margie, Maggie (Muggs) and me were vacationing in Spain. We took a fantastic road trip from Barcelona to Galicia and back. An unforgettable journey. We heard that you could get real Absinthe in Spain since it was never banned there. On our last night in Spain we headed for an Absinthe bar that we had heard about, but it was in a seedy part of town. Foutre! I remember walking down a dark street populated with characters you wouldn't want to meet in day light much less after night fall. Two tourist were walking ahead of us and decided to turn back - too risky. I suggested we do the same but Margie, trooper that she is, said let's keep on going. Finally we found ourselves standing in front of the bar from hell, a dive that was dark and foreboding. The exterior was designed in a way that you could not discern a door to enter through; there were no knobs or handles to grasp. Finally Margie pushed on the flat surface and a door did indeed swing open. (How she figured that out I'll never know). The bar was dark and musky: cigarettes and booze, but the atmosphere was lively. Mostly young Americans eager for a taste of the magic elixir.We ordered Absinthe and I bought a pack of Camels. Margie, Muggs and me waxed poetically about the beauty of Spain. We talked about Santiago de Compostela, Gaudi's Sagrada Familia and Monserrat. Were we drinking the real Absinthe? I was never quite sure it was  the real deal, but it really didn't matter as I was with the best of friends.

My mind never wandered back to Absinthe in the years following our trip to Barcelona. Then in 2001 a friend gave me a copy of Alan Moore and Eddy Campbell's FROM HELL. Months  later the feature film of the same name was released starring Johnny Depp as  Inspector Abberline, an opium and Absinthe addicted Inspector with  the Yard hot on the trail of the Ripper.  In one particular scene he draws a bath and settles back to drink a laudanum laced Absinthe complete with flambé

Although it originated in Switzerland, Absinthe usually conjours up images of Fin de Siecle Paris populated by bohemians, artists and poets both bourgeois and vagabound alike. Verlaine, Rimbaud, Van Gogh, Lautrec, Degas, Wilde and Zola. Baudelaire, Modigliani, Hemingway, Poe and the dubious Mr. Crowley - Absinthe drinkers all; devotees of La Fee Verte which I have dubbed the Green Dragon (not to be confused with chasing the dragon.) 

Absinthe is a true spirit of high proofage (110 to 140). The basic ingredients are wormwood, anise, fennell and alcohol.  Absinthe is like Sambuca on steroids with a green hue. The active agent in wormwood is thujone which comes "alive" when combined with the alcohol. It is the thujone that was considered to be harmful causing seizures, convulsions and hallucinations. Much of the dangers associated with Absinthe were really over exaggerated. Absinthe is really no worse than any other spirit taken in moderation. During the First World War it was issued as a panacea for a plethora of ailments. Soldiers returning home to France had developed a real taste for Absinthe which, by that time, had been universally banned in most countries. In 2007 the ban was lifted and you can now purchase real Absinthe with wormwood in the United States for the first time  since 1914.

Absinthe was never banned in Spain and the Czech Republic where it could be purchased openly. More paeans, poems and paintings have been devoted to Absinthe than any other beverage on the face of the Earth. It would seem to be a fitting beverage for The Green Hornet or the Green Lantern yet, somehow, the creators of those two superheros missed a cool opportunity. Perhaps they didn't want to corrupt young readers. Never has the road to perdition been more beautifully paved.

Glass of Absinthe with traditional spoon

Beautifully ornate Absinthe Spoon

Picasso's Woman Drinking Absinthe

Vintage Absinthe label

It's not possible for me to do justice to the history of Absinthe in so small a space. I highly recommend Barnaby Conrad's Absinthe: History In A Bottle a wonderful read about a legendary spirit.

The title of this little essay is borrowed from the Deluxe Edition DVD of the Hughes Brothers' film version of From Hell, which contains a featurette under the same title.

Gone now is Erik Satie
I'm now listening to Walking in Space [Abridged] from HAIR: An American Tribal Love-Rock Musical:

Doors locked (doors locked)
Blinds pulled (blinds pulled)
Lights low (lights low)
Flames high (flames high)

All the clouds are cumuloft
Walking in space
Oh my God your skin is soft
I love your face

How dare they try to end this beauty?
How dare they try to end this beauty?

In this dive
We rediscover sensation
In this dive
We rediscover sensation

Walking in space
We find the purpose of peace
The beauty of life
You can no longer hide

Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Our eyes are open
Wide wide wide!

Have Pen, Will Write
Scribo Ergo Sum

Clifford Jake Jacobs

Drink Responsibly


Friday, February 11, 2011

Black Swan in Australian Roses

I recently purchased a new bottle of ink made by Nathan Tardiff founder and chief mixologist of Noodler's Ink.

The color is called, Black Swan in Australian Roses. (I assure you the name of the ink has nothing to do with the recent Hollywood film, Black Swan.)

The Ink takes its name from the unusual way the ink reacts to paper. The shading element of the ink runs from rose on the edges to burgundy to black in the center: hence the Black Swan in the midst of the Rose.

An ink that's pleasing to the eye is second only to a writing instrument that glides effortlessly across the page.

If you're a fountain pen user and you use bottled ink, as I do, I urge you  to purchase a bottle of BSIAR. It's good for everyday use or for writing a special letter to a special someone.

Clifford Jake Jacobs
Have Pen, Will Write
Scribo Ergo Sum

The Moving Finger Writes

A few years ago I visited the Morgan Library and Museum. I knew very little about its collection but was delighted to learn that Morgan specialized in collecting "works on paper." I am very devoted to the art of hand written letters, calligraphy and keeping a journal, so I visit the Morgan Museum often.

Here you will find musical manuscripts of Mozart, Beethoven and Stravinsky; lyrics written by Bob Dylan on a napkin, Guttenberg Bibles, diaries, liturgical books and a wide variety of incunabula.

Their current exhibition, The Diary: Three Centuries of Private Lives features the personal journals of some of the world's greatest thinkers and writers.

On display are the original diaries of Hemingway, Charlotte Bronte, Thoreau, Anais Nin, Samuel Pepys, John Steinbeck, William S. Burroughs and Lt. Steven Mona's 9/11 journal. Albert Einstein's diary is part memoir and part textbook as he searched for a general theory of relativity; mathematical formulae meets memoir.

Text messages and email have their benefits, to be sure, but I assure you a hundred years from now a bundle of email written by Barack Obama will not be nearly as interesting as reading his personal hand written journal.

Memoir is very different from autobiography which is written with the intention of publishing for a reading  audience. Autobiography allows one to edit scenes from one's life: to paint a self portrait of how we wish to be viewed or remembered. Memoir is less self conscious of its own existence - it has no idea  that others will eventually be reading its pages. The diarist's life, loves, dreams, hopes and desires are laid bare on the page giving the reader a rare opportunity to commune privately with the author.

The Morgan Library & Museum is located on Madison Avenue at 36th Street. While there, visit their wonderful  gift shop.

The Moving Finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a Word of it.

Quattrain 12 from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

Scribo Ergo Sum

Clifford Jacobs

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Global Village in Upheaval

With the arrival of Facebook and other social networks, I'm surprised that no one has cited Marshall McLuhan who clearly saw that emerging technologies was transforming the world into a Global Village. At the present our village is in turmoil.

Recent events in Tunisia and Egypt have caused me to revisit McLuhan's writings on media as well as Albert Camus' The Rebel which examines rebellion from both a historical and metaphysical viewpoint.

The world is changing, but then again, was there ever a time when it wasn't? Jordan, North Korea, South Korea, Haiti, Cuba - who will be next? One thing I do know: you can never suppress the human spirit yearning to be free. Southern Sudan is poised to become the world's newest nation as it declares its independence from Northern Sudan. Remember your Bob Dylan: The Times They Are a-Changin'.

If forces hostile to Israel gain a foothold in Cairo, there will be a major shift in the balance of power in the Middle East. There are some who feel that President Obama should stand by Mubarak if only for the sake of Israel, who has few friends in the region. However, if Obama supports Mubarak what message would he be sending to the Egyptians who have suffered under the weight of oppression and repression for three decades? Damned if you do - damned if you don't.

Hear the words of Fred Hampton, "You can kill a revolutionary - but you can't kill the revolution. You can arrest a freedom fighter - but you can't arrest freedom fighting."

A Luta Continua,



Thursday, January 6, 2011


The writing of eulogies, obituaries and letters of sympathy, is a literary art form that's often overlooked or neglected. No college or university offers a creative eulogy writing program, yet this important form of writing must often be executed on short notice with a learned hand and a sensitive heart while in the midst of one's grief. Very often, we do not have the time to prepare or practice this form of writing; it is thrust upon us when we least expect it. Alas! Death is never convenient.

Over the past few years I've been called upon to write obituaries for QPTV producers and employees who have passed away: Ms. Aliye Ak, Nancy Littlefield, Bernard Sydnor, Claire Vogel, Carl Angeleri, Carole Auletta and recently, Walter Sysak. Sadly, I've become quite adept at writing obituaries and letters of condolence whereby  one of my co-workers said to me recently, "Cliff when I die I want you to write my memorial."

My first such tribute was written for my dad, George Louis Jacobs, Sr. who transitioned in August of 1984. Usually, the first eulogy is the hardest to write, yet four years later when I wrote one for my mom, Dorothy Jacobs, I found it to be more difficult than the first. Moms will do that to you. This past week I had to write a eulogy for Walter Sysak a fellow co-worker, who died the Sunday after New Year's Day.  I thought about the Walter that I knew and the words flowed effortlessly from my pen. The tribute was written primarily for the benefit of the staff, producers and directors of QPTV. Yesterday I attended Walter's wake and to my surprise, the tribute that I wrote was framed and placed in the receiving room where Walter lay in eternal rest. I was humbled by the fact that my words had been framed by his family and was given a prominent place in the funeral home. This filled me with both sadness and joy: joy because I was honored that they used my tribute; sad because I'm getting too good at writing these things. Most families prefer to write their own tribute to their loved one, so I was honored that mine was used. I never mentioned to the family that it was I who wrote the tribute to Walter, but the word eventually got around and the Sysak's thanked me for my kind words.

This past Summer I visited the Rubin Museum in Manhattan where on display was an exhibit entitled: Remember You Must Die (Memento Mori). The exhibit viewed death from the ethos of both Eastern and Western culture, particularly as depicted in representational art. There was a book on display titled: The Book of Eulogies. It is an anthology devoted to memorial tributes, eulogies, poetry and letters of condolence. The book is not an exercise in morbidity, as you may think, but a celebration of life. It contains eulogies for Socrates, George Washington, Beethoven, Malcolm X, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Emily Dickinson, Eleanor Roosevelt and many, many more. A wonderful collection of elegies to the departed.

Notes of solemnity are usually heard or experienced in musical form by listeners of classical music. Composers like Mozart, Gyorgy Ligeti, Verdi, and Benjamin Britten have all written requiems, a requiem being a Mass for the Dead. Even Andrew Lloyd Weber, whose work I seldom enjoy, has written a Requiem that is classical in form and is also quite good. But we as individuals are usually called upon to write simpler notes; notes to be read or spoken - not sung.

Perhaps no letter ever written expresses sympathy so well as the letter to Mrs. Bixby from Abraham Lincoln on the the loss of her five sons on the field of battle during America's Civil War:

November 21, 1864
Executive Mansion, Washington

Dear Madam,

I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the
 consolation that may be found in the thanks of   the Republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.

Yours, very sincerely and respectfully,

A. Lincoln 

The authorship of the letter has been a point of debate for many years, some attribute the letter to John Hay, Lincoln's private secretary. And there was always a lingering question as to whether Mrs. Bixby's five sons actually died in the war. While two may, indeed, have died on the field of battle, the other two may have deserted with the fifth son receiving an honorable discharge. Be that as it may, the sentiments expressed in the letter have transcended time and have become immortal.

In our youth death is foreign to us; it's something that happens to older people. Rarely, as children, do our peers pass away. But as we continue to advance into higher age brackets we find that death is always at arm's length. Don Juan, the Yaqui brujo, introduced to us by the anthropologist Carlos Castaneda, says that death is a constant companion lurking just over our left shoulder, he (death) is an old friend who comes, from time to time, to collect our family and friends and who will one day arrive to collect each one of us.

Certainly, Freemasonry has helped me to cope with and understand the mystery of death. The central motif of our time honored mythology & philosophy focuses on the final hours of the Fraternity's heroic Patriarch: H.A. Millions of Freemasons around the world re-enact the story of the Master Builder who was slain because he would not abandon his integrity. We learn that the body is dross matter, that is to say: it is nothing without the indwelling spirit. It is the spirit that animates matter and that, which we place in the ground after death, is the seed of a new life, and our spirit returns to that place from whence it came.

As we say in Freemasonry (borrowing from Shakespeare's Hamlet) we are told to remember that "..we are travelling on the level of time to that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns."

Et In Arcadia Ego

Clifford Jake Jacobs
Have Pen, Will Write
Scribo Ergo Sum